Uncovering the Dark Secrets of ‘The Pale Blue Eye’

The Pale Blue Eye: There has been a significant resurgence of works in the murder mystery subgenre. We see plenty of whodunits in theatres and on screen, from fresh takes on Agatha Christie to more whimsical mysteries.

In Scott Cooper’s latest work, The Pale Blue Eye, the genre’s progenitor is called upon to help solve a compelling and completely absurd string of murders. Some viewers may recognize Scott Cooper from his 2017 film Hostiles, which features Christian Bale.

Fans of that film will find a lot in common between the two. Cooper not only directed the film but also wrote the screenplay, which he adapted from the novel The Revenant by Louis Bayard, published in 2003.

It’s 1830, and a brutal murder has sent shock waves through the community at West Point, home of the United States Military Academy. A cadet is discovered dead after being hung from a tree; he had his heart removed.

The military called in Augustus Landor, a hardened detective, to help them find the culprit. Landor quickly befriends a local cadet, a sensitive young man who cares more about poetry than he does about the military.

The Pale Blue Eye
The Pale Blue Eye

A young Edgar Allan Poe is recruited by Landor to spy on the secret societies at West Point. Along the way, they uncover a local family with ties to the case, a secret cadet organization, and a host of terrifying possibilities.

The mounting body count increases the pressure on Landor, making anyone a possible suspect. There are a lot of intriguing factors at play in this historical mystery set in a gorgeous location. The Pale Blue Eye is not the cleanest mystery novel.

There are some issues with the pacing, including a focus on Landor’s tragic brooding that goes on for too long and a few scenes that feel completely out of character. Considering the runtime is just over 2 hours, there are probably some unnecessary sequences.

Certain plot points cannot be taken seriously. Although the film benefits from excellent set design, period accuracy, and gorgeous cinematography, these acclaims ultimately detract from the film’s presentation.

Even in this meticulously realized world, the strangest of objects can stand out like a sore thumb. The story doesn’t work as well when it veers from a realistic portrayal of a murder from the past to a plot device straight out of a Thomas Harris novel.

In contrast, the moments of pure barking madness add some much-needed levity to what might otherwise be a bit too gloomy for most viewers. The cast is the film’s strongest selling point, and the two leads live up to expectations in every way.

Bale brings gravitas and sincerity to his central detective character. Landor makes for an excellent central detective. He maintains an unflappable exterior but is far from emotionless. The scenes in which Bale is allowed to lose control of his emotions are the ones in which he truly shines as a dynamic performer.

Landor’s portrayal is eerily similar to that of Bale’s Hostiles character, Capt. Joseph J. Blocker, but there’s more to Landor than meets the eye. Henry Melling, famous for his roles in The Queen’s Gambit and The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, plays Poe.

Almost all previous actors who have taken on the role of Edgar Allan Poe have portrayed him as a depressed gloomy stoic.

Melling envisions him as a man so fascinated with morbidity that it makes him giddy; this could be because of the character’s youth. His nuanced performance makes him a delight to watch.

Although The Pale Blue Eye is expertly crafted, it risks alienating viewers with some of its more out-there narrative choices. It drags on for far too long and ends on a note that some viewers may find too far-fetched to enjoy.

The film focuses on developing a serious atmosphere rather than shocking its viewers. Long, introspective conversations about deep philosophical questions are where it really shines. Detailing the actual mechanical process of solving the murder is less exciting.

To avoid spoilers, I will say that the movie ends satisfactorily about 20 minutes before the credits roll. Even less plausible elements of the story are revealed in the remaining 20 minutes. For some viewers, it could be the final straw, but for others, it could be the climax they’ve been waiting for.

Actor Christian Bale‘s trailer for Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tale of the Phenomenal Blue Eye
The idea of Edgar Allan Poe playing a role in a murder investigation is not brand new. John Cusack plays him in the long-forgotten 2012 film The Raven, in which he must decipher a series of Saw-inspired traps.

The Pale Blue Eye succeeds in capturing the feel of the era while also providing a murder mystery that is only slightly less absurd than it might otherwise be. The Pale Blue Eye is an excellent book. The chemistry between Bale and Melling is fantastic, the cinematography is top-notch, and nearly every shot is beautiful.

Though the pacing and narrative twists may be too much for some, this is an excellent murder mystery. Try not to think too hard about the answers as you join Bale’s master detective and Melling’s wonderful new take on Poe in this eerie experience. Netflix subscribers can now watch The Pale Blue Eye.

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